PRISON violence has reached a record high, statistics published by the Government last week suggest.
There were 32,559 assaults in prisons in the 12 months to June 2018: a 20-per-cent increase on the previous figures, the Safety in Custody Statistics, published by the Ministry of Justice, show. There were also 9485 assaults on prison staff: an increase of 27 per cent
Speaking on Wednesday, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, who is the Bishop to Prisons, said that it was a “disappointment” that the prison service did not get a mention in the Budget speech: “Some of us were pretty dismayed that the prison service did not get a mention in the Budget.”
The statistics show that the number of deaths in prison had also increased, to 325 — up eight per cent from the previous year — and so had self-harm incidents.
Prison violence was something that he was “very aware of”, the Bishop said. “It is a very serious issue at some prisons, but not at all at others.”
He believes that there are four particular reasons for the increase in violence: the loss of experienced staff owing to cuts; the prevalence of drugs, particularly “spice”; wider societal problems; and the impact of staff cuts, meaning that there was less activity time for those in prison.
“The prison service has lost many staff over previous years, and a number of those have been experienced. With them, the wisdom and skill to deal with violence has also been lost. This has exacerbated the problem.
“Experienced staff knew how to manage the situation, new staff less so. . . The difficulties over staff have left prisoners to access activities, including education, sports, even religion. If you are locked in for most hours of the day, the frustrations boil over when you are let out.
“We suffered from the loss of a whole cadre of prison staff. We also have a huge problem with wider society and the sort of people that go into prison disproportionately.”
Bishop Langstaff insisted: “It is violent situations that hit the headlines, but that is not the whole story.”
He said: “Chaplains and chaplaincy volunteers are an important part of the picture in talking to prisoners. They provide settings for prisoners to discuss their frustrations, and there is not widespread violence in chaplaincy. Christian involvement is not insignificant.”
HM Prison Buckley Hall is a men’s Category C (closed) prison. Its chaplain, the Revd Hilary Edgerton, said on Wednesday: “The media headlines will pick up on the negatives, but I would want to stress the positives. We often get visitors to come in and speak to prisoners at chaplaincy; there are very positive efforts to get men into education and work so they can get a job when they get out; and there are very good relationships built between chaplains, tutors and staff, and prisoners.”
She continued: “There is violence. There are rare assaults on staff by prisoners, and more incidents between prisoners. However, there are initiatives to deal with this. We [as chaplains] are involved in trying to help people understand what they have done to be in prison and help people to live peaceably. In trying to help people manage their traumas, we hope we can deal with violence.”
She added: “Settled prisoners get to grow used to staff and build relationships.”
Commenting on the statistics, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, said last week: “This is yet another shameful set of statistics that shows the sheer scale of the bloodshed in prisons. Ministers have recognised the gravity of the situation and have announced plans to raise standards in ten prisons, with a view to improving safety across the system.
“Further action to reduce the number of people in prison would save lives, protect staff, and prevent more people being swept into deeper currents of crime, violence, and despair.”